Posted on 4 Dec 2023

Author: John Wadsworth

Leadership is about inspiring, empowering and engaging others.  

Leadership matters. Harvard recently published research that found leaders can account for as much as 70% of the variance in employee engagement.  This is not surprising.  Many of the key drivers of engagement, such as communicating a compelling vision, inspiring confidence, building trust and creating a positive culture, are in the hands of leaders.

The outcomes of leadership that engage employees are compelling. In a global study comparing top-quartile with bottom-quartile engagement business units, Gallup found that units in the top quartile of engagement had 41% lower absenteeism, 59% lower staff turnover, 17% higher productivity and 21% better financial performance.  This is an impressive return on investment from developing highly effective leaders.

So what are the characteristics of a leader that inspires, empowers and engages others? At ISL, we have had the privilege of developing over 2700 CEOs, executives and senior leaders. For many, the ISL programme has been a significant marker in their careers. Those who have stepped up and made a meaningful difference share some common characteristics.

Successful leaders know themselves well – they know their strengths, their blind spots and how they impact others. They understand others and adapt their leadership and communication style to the different preferences of those they work with. 

Successful leaders are comfortable in their own skin and have a deep sense of inner confidence. They are true to themselves. They are humble and modest. They don’t seek to be liked all the time.

Successful leaders maintain their balance and energy. They exercise, have a healthy diet, drink lots of water, sleep well and maintain healthy relationships with friends and family. They are present. They are resilient and ensure their teams are too.

Successful leaders build a great team that has a clear purpose, vision, and values, is aligned and unified, exhibits high trust, has honest conversations, and focuses on delivering results.  Great leaders employ talented people more expert than themselves in their respective fields. They are coaches and mentors, not players. They don’t cast a big shadow, instead empowering and enabling others to shine. They don’t walk past unacceptable and disruptive behaviour and realise that even one bad apple in a team can pull the whole team down.  

Successful leaders never stop learning. They actively encourage feedback, they reflect and they grow. They accept there is always something to learn about themselves, about others and about the world around them. They are open-minded and curious.

So how do you develop those characteristics? 

Leadership is not taught. Leadership is experienced. It is a reflective process that seeks to understand how your leadership behaviours are seen through the lens of others to affirm your strengths and raise awareness of blind spots. It is about leading yourself so you can lead others. It is about being curious, open-minded and learning from peers. It is about creating a compelling leadership vision for the leader you want to be. Experiential leadership programmes, coaching, mentoring, personal reflection and observing others all have a part to play in your leadership journey.

It is a continuous process. It is personal. It is about you.

  • Are you investing in your own leadership?
  • Are you investing in your organisation’s leaders?
  • Are you investing in your organisation’s emerging leadership pipeline?

The research demonstrates that the return on investment will make a massive difference to organisational performance.

Author: John Wadsworth

John is the Chief Executive of the Institute for Strategic Leadership International Group. He has held executive roles across different industries throughout his career, including sport, business growth, and tertiary education. For better or worse, this article is an original - No ChatGPT or AI was used.


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